The Ordo Templi Orientis might be one of the best-known occult societies in the world. Made famous by the notorious Aleister Crowley, it’s a group with a long pedigree and impressive degrees of secrecy. As I took in the stylish monogrammed sweatshirts the members of the Blue Equinox Oasis were wearing as they prepared for their presentation of the Gnostic Mass, I remarked that they didn’t seem to be keeping their organization much of a secret at all.
“That’s because it’s not a secret,” explained Frater Taurus, the body master of the organization. He went on to explain that the true aim of the OTO was to help its members accomplish their true will with integrity.
“Crowley said that every man and every woman is a star. And a star is a star, no matter who you are.”
There were twenty of us gathered in the cozy foyer of the Pagan Pathways Temple just south of Twelve Mile on John R Road that night. We’d arrived in twos and threes shortly before 6 PM on February 7, 2016 at which time the purple veil, that hid the largest room in the Temple, had been drawn. Sounds of light construction emanated from behind the curtain as our anticipation grew. Some of the folks waiting there were regulars of Pagan Pathways Temple, eager to attend any interesting new spiritual event. Others were first-timers at the Temple, but fervent followers of the OTO. Donations were split between the OTO and the Temple and were not required, but many of us happily dug into our pockets to support these fine people.
A few minutes after 7 pm, Frater Lynx, the deacon for the evening, stepped out in a white robe and yellow silk scarf to explain the Mass to us. He demonstrated a few of the gestures and stances we’d be using during the ritual, and then led us into the room where the ritual would take place. The space had been transformed under black light into a sanctuary with two mysteriously veiled booths, one black and one white, at each end. Mystical music and the smell of incense filled the air as the ceremony began.
It is rare these days to see a ritual done with such atmosphere and mystery. I wasn’t very familiar with the symbolism and progression of the Mass, but the pageantry and poetry swept me along and made me feel as though I was witnessing something truly ancient. The ritual reached its height as each participant partook of the bread and wine offered as a sacrament, and then turned to the assembly and proclaimed, “There is no part of me that is not of the gods!”
I learned afterwards from Frater Lynx and Soror Shivani, former body master of the group, that each aspect of the set-up had a deep meaning. The black Tomb at one end, from whence the High Priest emerged to be dressed in velvet robes by the High Priestess, was a symbol for one part of the Tree of Life.
The white altar at the other end of the room, where the High Priestess sat bedecked in a strategically placed scarf, held an elaborate candelabra that symbolized the Circle of Stars. The black and white pillars on either side of it represented Mercy and Severity. Frater Lynx explained that the set-up symbolized the Tree of Life and the duality of the universe, along with many other symbol sets, and that the room was setup to allow the spiritual light of gnosis to reflect onto all of the participants.
“You see,” he said, “it’s all about the light.”
The role of the High Priest was ably performed by Frater Odysseus, a man whose expertise in Kabbalah and all things occult was as impressive as his beard. The role of the High Priestess was performed by Soror Freyja, who explained that these roles rotated among members who were qualified to perform them. Soror Freyja told me that the role of the High Priestess was to carry love to the participants as the embodiment of Nuit, one of three deities honored in the ritual. “Love…and gnosis,” she added.
Reactions to the Gnostic Mass were largely positive as we gathered afterwards to discuss our experiences (and even later at Green Lantern, where we went to partake of further discussion and delicious cheese bread). Devon, a regular at the Temple, said that he saw many similarities to both Wiccan rituals and Catholic Mass and could see himself working some aspects of the Gnostic Mass’s strong and moving images into his own practice. S.L.S., another regular at the Temple, was intrigued by the obeisance implied by the act of kneeling, as well as the intimate interaction between the priest and priestess.
While this was the first Gnostic Mass to be held at Pagan Pathways Temple, it certainly won’t be the last. The Blue Equinox Oasis plans to hold regular Gnostic masses at the Temple, as well as an assortment of lectures and classes. Interested parties should watch the calendar at http://www.paganpathwaystemple.org.
Rachel Weisserman graduated from Central Michigan University with a degree in English, and is the head writer for “Unveiled,” an upcoming TV show from Pagan Pathways Temple.